being the album she “always wanted to make” and having worked regularly with
top acts like Alice Cooper, Steve Vai and Jermaine Jackson for years, it is clear that LA native Nita Strauss
(7 December 1986) needed to wait a little until she had
the confidence to embark on her debut solo album, Controlled
Chaos, released 16 November
by Sumerian Records.
That ‘little kick’ partly came from Steve Vai himself, who had invited her to contribute to She Rocks, Vol. 1, which led her the following day to start to write Pandemonium, a great version of which, Pandemonium 2.0, appears on this album. It is a nice coincidence that it was in fact Steve Vai who inspired Strauss both to embark on a solo career and to start playing guitar in the first place.
Strauss was also given a huge boost by the response to her plea for funds to make the album, as she was determined to do it independently; she ‘wanted to make her own decisions’. She turned to the crowdfunding organization Kickstarter and was rapidly overwhelmed with donations, beating her original target by over eight times over, edging towards the 200,000 dollar mark.
To put it bluntly, Strauss was now ready to go out and kick some ass in her own way, and she achieves it. Eschewing vocals, she uses a strong rhythm section of bass and drums as a foundation from which to launch her soaring guitar solos. It might be said that the songs feel a little restricted by over production, but Strauss has clearly put her heart into each track and had a lot of fun doing so, and that is evident throughout.
It wasn’t easy to find time to compose in her hectic recording and touring schedule, as she points out: "I started putting the ideas down probably at the end of 2017. For a few months there, I was grabbing time […] on the back of the tour bus, in the hotel room, wherever I could set up my work station and work for an hour, that's what I would do. When Alice took the summer off to go on tour with his band Hollywood Vampires, that's when I took the bulk of recording."
The introductory track Prepare For War, and the seventh song The Quest, both have the feeling that they were inspired by video games, in that they are inspirational, expansive and heroic, a point that is strongly reinforced by the aesthetics of the album cover.
The brief opening track is followed by the power metal Alegria, which contains complex layered sounds that are topped off with a blast of arpeggios, as Strauss makes her way up and down the fretboard with her customary flare and skill. ‘If you want to hear some serious shredding, you’ve come to the right place’, she seems to be saying.
The following outstanding tracks Our Most Desperate Hour and Mariana Trench are almost comforting in their darkness and depth, and again showcase Strauss’s capacity to produce some great riffs. You won’t get too comfortable however because the latter track throws in a curveball change in direction after 2 minutes 30 seconds, and again a minute later. The powerful drumming of Josh Villalta on Mariana Trench is topped off by Strauss’s guitar wizadry on her Ibanez Jiva 10 Signature; as she said herself “I’ve never made a dime from Ibanez [but…] my blood bleeds them.”
Strauss cranks down the volume considerably on songs like Here With You, the acoustic based Hope Grows, and The Show Must Go On, which introduce other instruments, such as cello, and provide a welcome contrast to the headbanging fiesta. Perhaps she also wanted to pay tribute to Freddie Mercury in this innovative cover to one of his final – and undoubtedly heroic - songs with Queen.
Controlled Chaos is a very strong debut that allows Strauss to show her passion, skill and creativity. She reportedly plays all the guitar and bass on the album, as well as engineering it, and few will remain unimpressed with her dedication and commitment to her art. She has been known as Hurricane Nita and Mega Murray, but Nita Strauss is her name and, in case anyone was in any doubt, she’s here to kick ass.